Oh, what a difference a year makes.
In 2017, we watched as Brad Underwood took an inherited group of young men and guided them to an adventurous season and ultimately to a somewhat unexpected NCAA tournament bid. We all thought it would take time to rebuild the program under a rising star in the coaching ranks.
Oklahoma State had its man in Underwood, and its basketball program taking the first big steps into national relevance.
Maybe it wouldn’t take as long as anticipated, we thought.
That all changed once the tournament glow was extinguished with a first round loss to Michigan. An exciting game, yes, but ultimately disappointing. Then, Underwood pulled up stakes and took off for Illinois. He got an offer he couldn’t refuse once he got the one he could from Mike Holder.
He burned down the program on his way out, we thought.
We questioned everything about where Oklahoma State Basketball was, where it had been, and where it was going. The administration, the coaching candidates, the players. All of it.
Then Holder and Co. did the unimaginable. They put in a quick search, invited in the popular —and completely inexperienced— choice before turning in house by selecting one of Underwood’s assistants no one had ever heard of in Mike Boynton.
We all asked, “Really?! Is Cowboy basketball now at a level where we can’t attract big name, proven coaches to even interview? Could we even afford him if we did?”
But now, nearly a year later, Mike Boynton has done the equally unexpected with far less than Underwood. With a depleted roster (from graduation, the NBA, and dismissals), having been named in a national sports agent pay-for-play scandal, and in the face of a jilted fanbase frustrated by a first-ever last place preseason ranking, Boynton proved himself capable of circling the wagons and not letting the expectation drive the conversation.
It would be how this team played and carried itself throughout the season that would be the indicator of the program’s status.
Boynton got the boys to buy in, and we should all be excited to be standing here.
Sure, there have been great victories — on the road, no less — coupled with tremendously frustrating losses in the hollowed(-out) confines of Gallagher-Iba Arena. It’s been an adventure, one more compelling than the downward spiral another state school has experienced in the second half of the season.
Boynton doesn’t make too much from the wins, and he has owned every loss. He’s given us a ride every bit as intriguing and frustrating as last year, which is probably more than we could’ve asked for.
So here the Cowboys sit with one game remaining. There will be plenty of talk about having already handling the mighty Jayhawks. They have a chance on Saturday to be the first Big 12 team to sweep Kansas in the same season under Bill Self. Crazy enough, but wouldn’t that be par for the course for how Boynton’s first season has gone?
The questions will swirl about if this team has the capability of making the Big Dance thanks to road wins in Lawrence and Morgantown and home losses to TCU, Baylor, and Kansas State.
But none of that really matters when you see how this team fights for each other and for the coach who has believed in them and wanted to work with them to begin laying the foundation for a OSU basketball rebirth.
As the season winds to a close over the next month, the Cowboys face the reality that it might not win another game. The weight of all this season’s struggles on and off the court could prove too much down the stretch.
It sure has been an unexpected run nonetheless, but I think it’s easy to look back and see this season as a successful campaign in Stillwater. Our gratitude should be given primarily to the one man who willingly stepped into the near-literal dumpster fire that was Oklahoma State Basketball, and doused it more rapidly than anyone imagined.